Prayers for a Feverish Planet – Program Notes II.

James Bohn • Doug Buist • Alex Burtzos • Clifton Callender • Laura Collier

James Bohn, United States                                                     


Each page is twenty seconds long. The pianist may choose to play any of the fragments as many (or as few) times as desired in any order in the time allotted. The performer may choose to pause as long as they’d like between fragments as desired. One guideline is that if the performer plays each fragment on the page once at the specified tempo, the total time adds up to about 20 seconds. The performer may choose to plan their route the piece ahead of time, using intuition or chance procedures. They may also choose to navigate their route through the piece in real time using intuition or chance procedures.

Ann adds: check back for my thoughts on this aleatoric piece!

Doug Buist, United Kingdom                                                 

The Mazed Earth (2020): Sonata for Piano

The seasons alter: hoary-headed frosts 

Fall in the fresh lap of the crimson rose, 

And on old Hiems’ thin and icy crown 

An odorous chaplet of sweet summer buds 

Is, as in mockery, set. The spring, the summer, 

The childing autumn, angry winter change

Their wonted liveries, and the mazed world, 

By their increase, now knows not which is which. 

And this same progeny of evils comes 

From our debate, from our dissension. 

We are their parents and original. 

William Shakespeare 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Act II, scene 1) 

I’ve realised that I am old enough to have noticed that the world has changed. That there are things (plants, animals, weather patterns) I remember that are not the same or no longer there. The first movement, Preludes, is an elegy for the places we’ve lost and our memories of them. It was actually another line from A Midsummer Night’s Dream in my mind as I started this movement: ‘I know a bank where the wild thyme blows’. The movement is built from bits of ‘recycled’ Beethoven, Brahms and Chopin nocturnes, combined with what I think of as the ‘wild thyme theme’, a melody that oscillates between modality and atonality. 

Scherzos, the second movement, represents our destructive impact on the planet. Musically in this movement we start to notice fragmentation, the sense of the piece starting to pull itself apart despite the thrilling rush. In October 2019, our family visited my wife’s home state of South Australia. Standing in the Barossa Valley one day we both said how unusually dry the ground felt, with some nervousness. A few weeks later enormous bushfires ripped across the east of the country burning 18 million hectares of land, destroying communities with the cost of 450 human lives, and a still unknown devastating impact on billions of Australia’s unique wildlife. These fires are a direct result of human interventions on the ecosystem. 

The last movement, Passacaglias, is designed to be (approximately) 58% the length of the first movement; this is the extent to which, according to NASA, the Arctic ice cap has shrunk since 1979. It is broken down into eight short sub-sections, as if each is simultaneously floating off and frozen in time. There is a small note of hope. Much of the piece was written during ‘lockdown’ in 2020 – not in itself a cause of hope – when in our cities we started to see air pollution fall and bees flourish again. It demonstrates that we could reclaim our planet if we wanted, and we hear the ‘wild thyme theme’ tentatively start to regrow. 

Ann adds: check back for my additional thoughts.

Alex Burtzos, United States                                       

Perforation (2018) 

Holding your mother’s hand 

while she is dying is like trying to love 

the very thing that will kill you.

– Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, from “Rabbit Hole” (2018)

Ann adds: Initially I chose this work because of the idea of “perforation” — of something being punctured, no longer intact. It made me think of the ozone layer (not something we hear so much about nowadays), but beyond that, how it can be extended to other facets of the environment — glaciers and ice shelves, for instance. The rhythmic pattern of the left hand sounds, to me, like a heartbeat; there’s more than one piece in the series in which a heartbeat appears. On a more personal note, the piece has a lot more resonance practicing it in the weeks leading up to and following my father’s death.

Clifton Callender, United States                                 

Meditation on a Warming Planet (2020)

“The way out of climate change is inside each of us.” — Thích Nhất Hạnh 

From a human perspective, the warming of the planet is very gradual, yet relentless, a steady progression (accumulation) toward a more chaotic and less hospitable world.

Ann adds: check back for my thoughts!

Laura Collier, United States                                       


Tarantella is a quick and agitated piece which reflects the ever-rising temperatures of the planet. In contrast to the complacency and denial that climate change is often met with, Tarantella’s growing anxiety and restlessness serve as a warning of the inferno we are creating.

Ann adds: Laura Collier’s Tarantella is one of the more traditional pieces on the program. It’s an effective show piece in the Lisztian tradition – pianistic, fun to play, and provides some aural contrast to many of the other works.